Cal Football: A Golden Spotlight on Tedford's New Offense vs. the ASU Sun Devils

ASU Face, meet Cal Palm.

"He gives us the added dimension to make plays with his feet," came the anointment of Zach Maynard as the starting QB after spring ball.  "Less volume and more creativity for the offense" was the coachspeak uttered at the conclusion of fall camp.  But would it work?  Could "modern" spread, pistol, and zone-read principles be incorporated into the classic Tedford pro-style offense?  Would this be a cacophonous medley of Bieber and Rebecca Black, or some sweet, smooooth jazz?  After ample hiccups and growing pains during the middle of the year, it appears that the Cal offense is back to finding it's rhythm.

 

Forced to settle for a field goal on their first possession, the Bears find themselves down and in need of a response after ASU's run-heavy scoring drive.  Cal comes out with 12 personnel, 1 TE and 2 backs.  The tight end, Hagan, is split out wide to the right as a receiver.  This creates a blocking mismatch with ASU's smaller corner.  The fullback, Tyndall, is slightly offset to the left suggesting our formation is strong to the left.  ASU counters with their base 4-3 look and appears to be in a classic Cover 2 zone.


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At the snap, the Bear Oline surges forward.  Schwartz, Schenke, and Cheadle all lock up their guys.  Galas moves on to the second level and gets a bead on Burfict.  MSG leaves their end unblocked and also moves to the second level.  Maynard reads their unblocked DE...who pauses.  Maynard decides to give it to Sofele.

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Instead of running a scrape exchange (crashing to hit the running back), their DE holds his position and stays locked on Maynard who carries out the fake by sprinting right.  ASU's OLB also pauses while trying to read the play.  Meanwhile, Burfict has charged straight up the middle where he meets Galas.  Their remaining OLB sees the gap and rushes forward...

 

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Tyndall meets their OLB in the hole and takes him out.  Sofele bursts through!  With a nifty cut, he jukes the ASU corner and moves back inside.  The backside ASU defenders have finally started to pursue, but are too far out of position to matter.  Jones engages the nearby safety and MSG lumbers downfield trying to slow their other safety.  Meanwhile, Galas has put Burfict on the ground.

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Sofele breaks free towards the goal line with just one man to beat and most of the ASU defenders in pursuit.  Burfict gets up, but doesn't bother pursuing the play.

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The last ASU defender hits Sofele three yards shy of the goal line...

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...but Sofele will not be denied.  He absorbs the contact and reaaaaches all of his 5'7 frame forward for the score!

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Following a fumble recovery caused by Trevor Guyton and a nifty runback by Mychal Kendricks, the Bears are in business.  They just drew a PI penalty off a play-action rollout and deep ball to KA that just glanced off his hands.  

Cal sets up again with 12 personnel, 1 TE and twin backs.  Hagan is wide left as a receiver.  Tyndall is offset right suggesting a strong formation right.  Sofele is slightly back in a quasi-pistol-like look.  ASU is once again playing their base 4-3 in what appears to be Cover 2 zone.

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At the snap, MSG, Schwenke, and Cheadle all lock up their guys.  Schwartz leaves the end unblocked and moves downfield.  Galas moves forward to the 2nd level.  Their right OLB pauses as do both safeties.  Burfict charges right up the middle.  Their left OLB also charges forward, possibly keying on the fact that Cal's fullback was on his side of the formation.  But Tyndall crosses over and changes the formation from strong right to strong left.  Maynard reads the unblocked DE...

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ASU puts their college education to work.  Cal just ran this play!  They gave it to Sofele for a long touchdown run!  The ASU DE crashes down towards Sofele.  Their right OLB also starts to drift towards the middle.  Meanwhile, Schwartz and Galas have engaged both of ASU's remaining linebackers who were rushing forward.  The ASU safeties are still trying to read the play.

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Maynard keeps the ball!  The ASU right OLB tries to reverse field, but gets picked off by Tyndall.  Jones and KA move forward to wall off the ASU corner and safety.  Burfict and the other ASU LB can't get away from Schwartz and Galas.

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There are three ASU defenders and only two Cal blockers.  KA engages his man at the nine yard line.  Maynard puts his foot down and cuts hard outside...

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...WHOOP!  The ASU corner's jock goes one way, his jaw goes another, and he falls down.  Hagan stands over him menacingly just in case.  KA is still driving his guy back and gets in the way of the other safety, too.

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KA's man finally gets free...seven yards later and too far out of position to make a difference.  Hagan gets in the way of their remaining safety.  Maynard has a free path to the corner of the end zone.  Using a clever wrinkle off a play that we had just run, it's Touchdown Bears!

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After a miserable end to the first half featuring 14 ASU points in 29 seconds, Cal finds themselves in need of a comeback scoring drive.  Although back in the red zone again, touchdowns have been far from a sure thing for our offense this year.  Too often, we've had to settle for field goals, including earlier in the game against ASU's stout run defense.  On first down, Cal tried to run the option left with Maynard keeping for a short gain.

The Bears come out with 21 personnel, two TEs and 1 back.  CJ is offset to the left in a pistol-like look.  This is the same formation Cal just used to run the option play to the left.  ASU has their goal line package in with nine men in the box.  Clearly, they've been reading Cal forums where everyone knows that "CJ IS OUR POWER BACK!  WE'RE GONNA RUN STRAIGHT UP THE MIDDLE AT YOU!"

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At the snap, Hagan leaves the ASU DE unblocked and moves forward to engage their safety.  The Cal Oline all engage their men.  MSG dominates their end and seals the edge. This frees Miller to take on their other safety.  Galas moves forward and takes out their left OLB.  It looks like Cal is about to hand it off straight up the middle like we always do. (spoiler alert)  Burfict is left unblocked and charges straight up the middle like a man possessed.  Maynard reads the unblocked DE...

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...The ASU DE holds position, so Maynard gives to Anderson and sprints left.  Anderson takes it.  But instead of running straight up the middle, he heads around off-tackle to the right.  MSG still has the edge sealed and Galas has their OLB tied up.  Miller engages their safety.  Burfict finds himself out of position in the middle of the line.

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Miller makes this play work.  He keeps their safety tied up and also manages to get in the way of their left OLB.  KA walls off their corner.  There's an open lane to the end zone.  Burfict stands up and just stops.  He doesn't bother chasing CJ.

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Miller finishes the play by Beast Moding his guy several yards deep into the end zone.  Schwartz and Schwenke have also driven their men backwards and are in the process of planting them beneath the logo.  Maybe there'll be cute Sun Devil flowers there next spring.  CJ does a leap of joy as he scores untouched.  It's a great call by Tedford & Co. to take advantage of ASU's aggressive defense and even better execution by the Oline and tight ends.

 

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Bonus coverage!  Just because, here's The Best Play of the Night:

 

It's a tight game, and neither side seems to be able to stop the other.  Does Cal ever win the close ones on the road?  How would we snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the Most Horrifyingly Painful Fashion Imaginable?  

It's a crucial 3rd down.  Going 3 and out here would give all the momentum and possible field position edge to the dangerous ASU offense.  Cal comes out with 21 personnel, two tight ends, one back.  Miller is on the line, but Hagan has been split out wide to the right.  The ASU defense is very aware of Hagan who has burned them earlier in the game with key catches to move the chains.  The Cal staff have been using him very similarly to how they usually line up the injured Michael Calvin.  ASU is in their base 4-3 look, and appear to be playing a Cover 2.

 

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ASU rushes four and drops 8.(Counting the ref, amirite?)  It's not just Cover 2, it looks like it might be more of a Tampa 2 look which drops the middle linebacker into coverage.  It looks like Cal is trying a high-low combo route with Miller running a vertical seam route to draw off linebackers leaving Jones free on the shallow cross.  There's tight underneath coverage on Jones and Miller with safety help over the top.  KA is being bracketed with under/over coverage.  Hagan is left in solo coverage and might be open near the yard marker.  But his defender is watching the QB and is ready to drive on the ball.

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Maynard puts his arm up to throw...and thinks better of it.  This is exactly the type of coverage that lead to interceptions against 'sc and ucla.  As a clever wrinkle, the ASU corner releases Jones and undercuts Miller.  One LB runs with Jones while the other moves forward to pick up CJ out of the backfield.  The ASU DEs get past Schwartz and MSG forcing Maynard to pull it down and step up in the pocket.

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Maynard starts sprinting towards the sideline.  Having been burned by two long runs earlier, including a touchdown, the ASU corner and OLB rush forward to head him off short of the sticks.

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But Maynard keeps his head up.  Off the full run, he lofts a beautiful touch pass to CJ who had stuck with the play and drifted behind the defenders.

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A short pass?  To an open man?  By a Cal QB?  Cal fans everywhere are expecting the throw to go high, wide, or maybe maim a bystander.  Instead, the ball is CJ's friend and drops gently into his waiting arms.  I swear I heard angels sing.

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Despite only having a three yard cushion on the ASU defender, our power back turns on the jets and dusts him.  Because of double coverage on the Cal receivers, the ASU safeties are out of position.  Game.  Set.  Maynard!  If there's a play which showcases all of his growth in one moment, this is it.  He read the defense, used his feet to buy time, showed poised, and had both great timing and touch to deliver the ball on target.  Is anyone else excited about the return to Memorial in 2012?

 

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Final Thoughts:

 

1)  Hat's off to Spencer Hagan for turning in his best game of the year.  No drops and solid blocking allowed the Bears to create mismatches on the perimeter.  

 

2)  Defensive adjustments:  Having McCain and Wilkerson out really affected our defensive schemes.  Coach Pendergast wasn't able to play any of his favored 2-4-5 big nickel formations that he likes to use to counter a spread attack.  Instead, we started in a true dime formation that allowed ASU to walk up the field rushing it straight at us.  This was quickly jettisoned in favor of a more standard 3-3-5 nickel with Hill replacing one OLB.  Because this left either a safety or a LB on one of their WRs, they always had a matchup advantage if given enough time.

Kendricks really impressed me with his ability to stick with the ASU WRs in coverage - without him, it could have been another Colorado-esque torching.

 

3)  Without our best pass-rushers, it was apparent that we couldn't generate any pressure on their QB without sending 5 or 6 guys...and sometimes not even then.  I know our pass coverage was inconsistent, but I'd almost put that more on our inability to get to Osweiler.  Kudos to the Cal coaching staff for deciding to roll the dice anyways and dial it up in the 2nd half.  If ASU had broken a few more big plays, it could have gotten interesting.  I wonder how much of the decision to attack on D instead of playing it safe was made because Maynard and the offense were playing well.

 

4)  The MASH unit.  Thank goodness the guys get a few weeks off to recover.  Besides both starting OLBs, it looks like Guyton, Tipoti, and Owusu are all nicked up because they played fewer snaps than usual.  And with McClure going down due to an ankle injury, we had to turn to true frosh Kam Jackson who promptly got burned for a couple of 1st down completions.  Getting back to full-strength could make a real difference in how we match up against our bowl opponent.

 

5)  Next man up.  At this point of the year, every team has injuries.  Props to the guys who stepped up.  Tyndall and Dumont played well at fullback.  Coleman and Jalil had a rough 1st half, but were very solid in the 2nd half.  Josh Hill has quietly had his best season.  And the aforementioned Kam Jackson rallied and played well the rest of the game.

 

6)  Over the past four games, Maynard is 63-92, 68% completion rate, 767 yards, 5 TDs, 12.2 yards per catch.  He still has a few errant throws per game, but has shown significantly better feet and accordingly, better accuracy.  After the Wazzu game, we all said, "yeah, it's just Wazzu."  Against OSU, it was, "this is Timmy vs. Jimmy.  It's a home game against a bad team.  Let's see if he shows up for the Big Game."  After the Big Game, now it's, "there might be something there.  But has he turned a corner?  Let's see if he can do it on the road."  And now...well, the jury's still out on how or whether Mr. Maynard will continue to develop.  But it sure looks like the Cal coaching staff has figured out how to play to his strengths.  

 

7)  It's surprising to say, but I think we might all miss the Torso Twist.  Giorgio has really put together a solid season kicking field goals for us this year.  Hat's off to him for getting better each year.

 

8)  Strangely enough, we limped our way to a decent season.  It almost feels like we backed our way into it because some the nature of some of our losses made them loom larger than they were.  We lost one game that we were predicted to win.(ucla)  We won a game that we were predicted to lose.(ASU)  And a pivotal game that was a pick-em didn't go our way.(UW)  Otherwise, we won the games we should have and lost the ones where we just weren't the better team.  Were we really an over-thrown fade pass (plus overtime) from an 8-win season?  That's not a bad year considering the big question marks we had with regards to our Oline, QB, and offense in general coming out of camp.  But moving forward, I'd like to hope that the coaches and team learned something from the low point of the year(ucla) and can build on this for next year.  With our touted recruiting classes, new facilities, and an emotional lift from The Return to Memorial, is it too much to ask for a Ro- ....  Yeah.  Too soon.

 

Thanks to a team-effort, we won't have to worry about Fighting Hunger at the ever popular AT&T park.  Is it too early to speculate whether Allen Bridgford will start in the bowl game?  (I kid.)  Let's heal up, put the ribbon on another awesome recruiting class, and get ready to go bowling!  Go Bears!

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